In spite of late summer, early fall rains across Texas, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) is petitioning the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to allow them to cut off Colorado River inflows to Matagorda Bay, a measure the Authority claims is needed in order to meet the water demands of its many city, industry and agriculture customers.

But a conservation biologist, appearing before the LCRA Board last month, warned that cutting off river inflows into the fragile Matagorda Bay system should not be allowed because of the potential negative impact to wildlife and the environment that would follow.

Ducks Unlimited Conservation outreach biologist Kirby Brown told LCRA board members during a September meeting that water conservation measures currently in place are not adequate. He suggested that current water conservation programs penalize agriculture and the environment while allowing other water users to continue using water irresponsibly.

“Every individual, every occupation, every community depends on water, and there is presently not enough to meet all demands,” Brown told the board. “The reality of the immediate situation is that all users should conserve equally and as much as possible. In the longer view, we must look at all the triggers for water conservation. The ones we have now are clearly coming up short, and system wide water conservation is the only immediate solution.”

 

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In a report issued last month, LCRA warned that while Sept. rains provided an additional 20,000 acre-feet of water to Lakes Buchanan and Travis, the two largest reservoirs managed by the Authority, both lakes remain at about 33 percent of capacity, and without substantially more rain in the weeks ahead, additional water restrictions will be necessary.

LCRA says the two lakes provide water for more than a million central Texans as well as businesses, industries and the environment throughout the lower Colorado River basin. But the Authority warns that only rainfall and inflows produced by that rainfall can fill the lakes, and much more rain is needed.

As a result, LCRA filed an application with TCEQ Sept. 26 seeking relief from requirements to send water from Highland Lakes to Matagorda Bay. The state-approved Water Management Plan requires Highland Lakes water be sent under certain conditions for the bay’s environmental health, and any variance from that plan would require the state's approval.

But Brown says such a move is counter productive and would adversely affect the environment and wildlife that depend on those inflows. He says the board decision to cutoff inflows is a bad approach and further claims better conservation by city governments is needed to avoid such damaging action.

“There continues to be a lack of understanding of the situation by our communities and the public. Cities use anemic water-conservation policies that continue to allow non-essential uses of water while criticizing and politicizing agricultural and environmental water uses and crying out that it’s a ‘critters’ versus people debate. That’s an oversimplified and ineffective approach to the problem, and it needs to be corrected,” Brown told the Board.

He said shrimpers, farmers, fishing guides and birding eco-tourism businesses are directly tied to ecosystem services, especially the freshwater supply.